Reforestation

With partners at the local, state, and federal levels, PEC’s reforestation program works to restore forests on legacy coal mines across the Commonwealth.


Pennsylvania’s landscapes are scarred from over two centuries of coal mining that resulted in over 15 billion tons of extracted coal. For most of this time, little attention was paid to the environmental consequences. When they were finished with one site, mine operators would move to the next, leaving over 250,000 acres of abandoned mine land (AML) in their wake.

Since the passing of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, over 55,000 acres of AML have been reclaimed using traditional reclamation practices – heavy machinery backfills the mined area, and the ground is heavily compacted, graded, and revegetated often using fast-growing grasses and forbs. When trees are planted using traditional reclamation practices, these aggressive groundcovers may outcompete tree seedlings. The establishment of tree cover is further hindered by compacted and poor-quality soil. In this environment, invasive and exotic species thrive and healthy, native forests do not. These unproductive and unnatural sites, commonly referred to as legacy mine lands, can negatively impact forest health, jeopardize wildlife habitats, and pollute our waterways.

While AML sites are well inventoried, legacy mine land is not. It is believed that there are 200,000 acres of legacy mine land in Pennsylvania in need of proper reforestation. Despite the abundant need, the restoration of legacy mine lands is not funded through the federal AML program that is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Abandoned Mine Lands.  To the end, with partners at the local, state, and federal levels, PEC’s reforestation program works to restore forests on legacy mine land across the Commonwealth.

PEC’s Reforestation Program advances the goals of the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), a joint initiative between the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) and six coal-impacted states using the Forestry Reclamation Approach (FRA) to restore healthy, productive forests on former mine lands. The FRA includes creating a suitable and uncompacted growing medium, planting compatible ground covers and various species of native trees, and using proper planting techniques. Restoring native forest land using the FRA improves water quality and soil chemistry, reduces erosion and sedimentary runoff, increases biodiversity, increases carbon sequestration, improves forest connectivity, creates wildlife habitat, and enhances wild character within Pennsylvania’s forests.

When project sites are easily accessible and the land manager approves, PEC coordinates volunteer tree planting events to engage the local community for educational purposes, create opportunities for hands-on environmental restoration, and raise awareness of this important work.

PEC’s reforestation of legacy mine land is not completed alone, but through working closely with many committed partners on the ground, including: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Green Forests Works, The American Chestnut Foundation,  Pennsylvania Game Commission, and many others.

Use the interactive Reforestation Story Map to view known abandoned and legacy mine land and follow PEC’s ongoing reforestation work.

Watch How to Regrow a Forest to learn how PEC uses the Forestry Reclamation Approach to establish healthy forests on legacy mine land.

 

May 13, 2020

Picking Up the Pieces

PEC’s motto, “conservation through cooperation,” aptly describes any number of our programs and activities. But it’s especially relevant to the collaborative work of legacy mine land restoration, which we’ve been proud to share with our government and nonprofit partners in the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) since 2016. The last few months have tested the strength and resilience of that partnership – but with more than 71 thousand seedlings now planted across 62 acres of legacy mine lands, we’ve emerged stronger than ever.

Even under normal conditions, every reforestation project is a delicate balance of resources, logistics, and timing, requiring careful coordination among multiple entities long before the dibble bars hit the dirt. Seedlings must be lifted and transported to sites. Nursery and land managers must decide what is possible and safe to complete. Out-of-state planters are at the mercy of motel vacancies. Legacy sites, once ripped, are vulnerable to invasive species if not planted as planned. Weather, biology, funding, equipment, and a host of other potentially confounding factors are always in play.

Only in moments of disruption can we fully appreciate the meaning of partnership…

With these comparatively predictable pitfalls in mind, PEC began planning in the fall of 2019 for what was to have been the largest planting season since the launch of our legacy mine land reforestation program. In partnership with several state and federal agencies and NGOs, PEC set out to reforest 81 acres of legacy mine land with over 55,000 seedlings.

Three project areas were cross-ripped to create a non-compacted growing medium in preparation for planting in April and May 2020. These sites included PEC’s first foray into State Game Lands (SGL) with a 27 acre site on SGL 108; 42 acres in Gallitzin State Forest; and a 12-acre site on private property in Centre County.

Throughout the fall and winter, PEC worked with land managers to identify the best seedling species to meet each site’s goals and worked with public and private nurseries for supply. 40 volunteers were recruited to plant two acres on May 9th in Gallitzin State Forest, and a team of professional planters was ready to quickly sweep across the remaining acres. All the pieces were in place.

Then came March. Like everyone else, we watched helplessly as our work ground to a halt and our carefully laid plans fell apart in the face of a global emergency.

Ultimately, the pieces came together and we were able to reforest 62.3 acres of legacy mine lands across the state.

Only in moments of disruption can we fully appreciate the intricate, contingent, and deeply interconnected nature of the work we do: in a crisis, each partner has its own challenges to navigate, and each challenge can have cascading repercussions throughout the partnership. But when partners have a shared vision and a strong commitment to their common goal, they can adapt to adversity and accomplish the extraordinary.

Meeting by phone and videoconference, our partners quickly rallied around a new goal: assess and reallocate available resources to safely reforest the maximum possible acreage. While people across the country worked on jigsaw puzzles to pass the time under lockdown, we worked to piece together available seedlings with the needs of available sites, mustering a new workforce, setting a new timeline, and updating contracts to match.

Ultimately, the pieces came together and we were able to reforest 62.3 acres of legacy mine lands across the state. A professional crew planted on two of PEC’s original sites, including seven acres on SGL 108 and 12 acres on private land. Additionally, 35 acres in Sproul State Forest and 8.3 acres on two private sites in Cambria and Clearfield Counties were planted.

In difficult times, it is easy to give up on projects and relationships, prioritize our own needs over our collective goals, hoard rather than pool our available resources, and focus on problems rather than successes. But PEC’s ethic of cooperation, and the strength of our longstanding network of dedicated partners, made it possible to redefine what success looked like for our 2020 planting season. Together, we’ve planted over 71 thousand seedlings, moving all of us closer to our shared reforestation goals.

What’s next? The future we face may be uncertain, but PEC and our partners are using this time to look forward to the 2021 season, identifying additional legacy mine lands to be reforested, finding new partners and diverse streams of funding — and, of course, adding the 62 acres in Gallitzin State Forest and State Game Lands 108 to the spring slate. We will take what we’ve learned from this moment and make an even bigger impact next year.

February 17, 2020

ARRI Featured in Washington Post

For 25 years, he oversaw the process that may represent humans’ best attempt to date at total annihilation of land: strip-mining and mountaintop-removal mining of coal… Angel, born and raised in the same eastern Kentucky mountains that have been devastated by mining, has spent the rest of his career undoing the damage.

“The Green Miles,” Washington Post 2.13.20

 

On February 13, the Washington Post featured an extensive profile of Patrick Angel, who co-founded the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) within the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). The article tells the story of the Forest Reclamation Approach developed by Angel and his ARRI colleagues, now the preferred method used in reclaimed mineland reforestation projects across the eastern U.S.

PEC has organized volunteer tree-planting events in state forests since 2016

PEC is a proud partner in ARRI, working with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Green Forests Work, and others to restore healthy woodlands in state forests.

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